The Review: If you’re looking for an actor who’s tried his hand at nearly every kind of movie to help make your move into the mainstream, then you probably shouldn’t look any further than John C. Reilly. From the Paul Thomas Anderson dramas of the Nineties, through a supporting turn in Chicago to Adam McKay comedies, Reilly’s choices are nothing if not eclectic and he has proven himself adept at turning his hand to both comedy and drama. So who better to lead your cast if you’re attempting to break into the mainstream after making your name in small, mumbling indie movies? John C. Reilly is almost the perfect everyman, but also manages to perfectly embody the foibles and neuroses that make him a believable loner.
This is the story of the two women in John’s life – Jamie (Catherine Keener), his put upon ex-wife, although the put-uponning is almost entirely from John, and Molly (Marisa Tomei), the woman he meets at a party and quickly forms a bond with, who seems oblivious to his eccentricities or actually charmed by them. Consequently, John is keen to hang on to Molly, although she seems secretive and distant – that becomes a little clearer when John invites himself round to her place and is confronted with Cyrus, Molly’s grown up son, whose oddities seem to make John’s pale into insignificance.
Cyrus himself is portrayed by Jonah Hill, who in contrast to Reilly seems to have made a career out of playing very subtle variations on Jonah Hill. Here, for possibly the first time, he gets to stretch himself a little, his wide-eyed stare and placid demeanour coming off initially as simply shy but revealing itself as more over the course of the movie. If you’ve seen the poster, then it’s not a leap to expect John and Cyrus to become adversaries for Molly’s affection, and that’s exactly what happens in this off-kilter romantic comedy, but it’s the performances of Reilly and Hill that make this worth watching.
Having said that, all of the cast are excellent, it’s just that the two male leads feel at the top of their game. There’s a lot of laughs here, and while the humour is driven by the awkward situations of the characters there’s still plenty of laughs to be had. There are a couple of issues though; first off, mumblecore stalwarts Mark and Jay Duplass both write and direct, and are better at the former than the latter, their insistence on the zoom employed every time a character has any kind of reaction being in keeping with similar realist material, but rather too overused here. The other is that, for a movie that feels like it’s attempting to be unconventional in its set-up, it’s all rather neat and tidy and actually desperately conventional as it moves into the final scenes. A fair amount to enjoy, but sadly Cyrus isn’t quite destined for greatness.
Why see it at the cinema: Plenty of good laughs for audience appreciation, although the direction is more intimate than epic in scope.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: “So no one told you life was gonna be this way…” Six people living in two neighbouring apartments in a New York apartment block and their intertwining lives. But Friends: The Movie this ain’t. There are other TV links, though; writer and director Nicole Holofcener has learned her trade by both writing and directing for TV, in the case of the latter for Sex and the City and Six Feet Under, so she comes with a strong pedigree. What also comes through from her experience is the sense of honesty that both series at their best were capable of exhibiting, in the lives of the central characters, ranging in age in this case from teenage to death’s door.
I’ve just lost a lot of weight over the past year, and it’s interesting seeing people’s reactions. Some are happy to tell you to your face that they thought you were overweight, but would never have said that at the time; some notice when you lose even a small amount of weight and others don’t seem to notice as the weight falls off, but you’re never sure if they’re thinking something, and just don’t want to say. Please Give seems to have captured almost perfectly the knack of exploring these types of social situations, from the mundane to the uncomfortable, with the reactions being sometimes surprising, often amusing but never feeling forced. At the same time, each of the characters comes to reflect at some point or another on their chosen occupation, or in some cases what they feel called to do, and how their own morals and character have led them to the choices they’ve made and the situations they’re in.
The material is typical of other New York movie acolytes such as Woody Allen, in that the characters find themselves in a situation rather than being driven or carried along by a plot, and it’s their reactions in this situation that give the movie its momentum. To make movies like this work, you need a good ensemble of actors, and the name actors appearing (Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet) all bring a lot to their roles without ever being showy. Mentions must go to the other two members of the central ensemble, Anne Guilbert and Sarah Steele, who are least the equal of their more famous colleagues.
What Please Give doesn’t do is anything stunningly original or incredibly daring, but what it does do is present an extremely satisfying and very enjoyable study of people’s reactions to and interactions with each other, and it does so without ever feeling the need to resort to the cynicism which is often to be found in this kind of movie. Holofcener should be applauded for what she’s achieved here, as it all feels effortless, but movies like this don’t come along often enough these days.
Why see it at the cinema: It seems like making movies like this has become something of a lost art, so show your appreciation by forking out for a ticket. And take some of your friends while you’re at it.
The Score: 9/10